Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Equinox

Today is the equinox, autumnal or vernal, depending on which hemisphere you have found yourself in.  Equinox meaning equal time where the sun is above and below the horizon.  The sun makes the crossing from the Northern Hemisphere to the Southern Hemisphere and thereby denotes a new season for both.  One of my favorite days of the year, ever since learning the wonders of celestial geometry during my semester with Sea Education Association more than ten years ago. 

My equinox was spent working on our solar projects – one project of the scientists, one for the South Pole.  (The sun rises at the pole today, having set six months ago.  It must be a happy day for the Polies!)  After work, a run on the treadmill, a dinner with friends and then some work on the ol’ computer. 

On my way back to my dorm (building #201), from building 155, I saw the equinox sky, a glow behind the Royal Society Mountains from the sun who is taking it’s last few rounds behind the mountains.  By mid October it will be circling above the horizon for four months.  I decided to walk down to the Chapel to get a better look at the twilight over the mountains and McMurdo Sound and ended up going inside the Chapel as today had been -40 degrees with a -73 degree wind-chill. 

The Chapel was dark and quiet, so I went in and walked up on the raised part to look out the window.  It was beautiful.  Twilight coming through the stained glass of the Chapel’s main window overlooking the sound.  I stood there for a while, alone in the dark, looking out over the silhouette of the mountains. 

Deciding it was time to leave I couldn’t help but sit down at the old piano, not quite in tune, but a million times better than the plug in keyboard and played through Moonlight Sonata, which I can finally play by memory.  So wonderful to have a piano here.  With my back to the twilight and stain glass but facing the twilight lit wooden panels above the piano, I played my favorite song, the one that always reminds me of lying under our piano at home, while Dad plays it just before bedtime. 

The light was too beautiful to leave so I went back to the window, but seeing the industrial buildings that took away from the mountains and light, I grabbed a stacked chair and sat it down in the middle of the small room…one chair, one person, a dark chapel, and the beauty of an equinox twilight in Antarctica.  I had my headphones on and was listening to a Pearl Jam mix and I started to sing softly with the music.  It was good to sing, in a world where there is not much personal time or space, how wonderful to have a chapel to oneself, to sing and sing.  It didn’t take too long before I was singing as one sings when one hasn’t in a month.  It was nice.  I often forget how much I need to do that.  It was then onto some new Chadwick Stokes songs before it was time to leave.  Singing the harmonies and then along with Chad, hearing the voice closest to mine in my ears.  It was nice.  Almost felt like I could touch those I love who are not here with me.  If I could not touch them, they have touched me. 

Got to go to sleep now.  It’s past my bedtime.  Just wanted to share a bit of my day. 

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Week one.

The Sun almost visible above McMurdo's horizon.
The sun is above the horizon now for almost 8 hours now, (growing by about 15 minutes a day) yet I have yet to see it as there are mountains to the north.  Any day now, the sun should hit the station at around noon, through a saddle on the flanks of Mt. Erebus.  The dusk and dawn light is wonderful.  That has long been my favorite part of the day and it is wonderful to have it last so long.  At night the stars are wonderful and I eagerly await the auroras, ever hopeful there will be clear weather if they come. 

I'm enjoying my Sunday, my one day off, which included a treadmill run (too windy outside), Sunday Brunch, some time at the ham radio shack, some emails and such.  Very nice to wake up this morning to the slowly growing light instead of the blinding light of the summer. 

The HAM radio shack.

Looking out over town on the way back from the shack.  The big blue building is where the galley is.
It got a bit colder today.  Down to -20C (-4F) with windchills of -33C (-27F), so I've got my goggles as I walk around town.  I almost shaved my face after the relatively warm temps -10C or so of the last week, but after today, I think I'll keep the beard coming.  I was issued a carheart jacket with a snap on hood.  When I put up the hood, and the googles, I have the strange sensation that, in fact, I am Han Solo on the planet Hoth.  If only I had a Ton Ton to ride...

The HAM radio antenna.

We've been working hard on our South Pole power station and now we are also getting some small power stations for small science groups together.   The first few days here were stormy.  When it cleared up, I could feel my mood improve.  I realized how I look fowrad to seeing the sun after not actually seeing it for a week, and then I think of the winter-over folks who have not seen it in many, many months!  The sun brings health and energy to us humans, especially when we are alternative energy specialists!  We cannot test our panels until we have sunlight.  So I feel very connected to the sun these days.  And throughout the day, I watch the moon do a circle above us, neither rising or setting, just circling us like the sun will do by mid october.  My best to all of you!

Making the roads out the Sea Ice runway.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

To the Dark Ice


When the time came to leave Christchurch for the Ice, I was ready.  We had been scheduled to be there for two nights, but had been there for four as weather at McMurdo prevented us from departing.  So this past Monday, it went like this.

0237 We get a call in my hotel room that the check-in time has been delayed for 4 hours.  This is very good news as it means I don’t have to awake at 0300 for a 0400 check in time.  (My roommate was a 65 year old diesel generator mechanic named Barry, most people call him Bear, from Texas…awaiting his first trip to the Ice, though he’d down contract work in Iraq with mortars raining into his compound!  Holy smokes.)
0600 Wake up for a treadmill run to make the legs less ansty on the flight down, followed by hotel continental breakfast.
0730 Board the shuttle bus with all my bags.
0800 Change into my issued ECW (Extreme Cold Weather) gear and check in my bags.
0920 Briefing for working in Antarctica.
1000 Go through security, then back into the briefing room for an hour as there was an issue with the hydrolics in the plane’s tail.
1120 Start boarding the plane
~1200 Take off for the Ice


~1700 Arrive on the Ice!  (I asked to go into the cockpit was too late – I had been too busy standing in the back looking out the small window of the C-17 so I missed the cockpit runs.)



~1830 Arrive to McMurdo after a 13 mile ride in one of the Deltas.  Not the fastest or most comfortable ride into town.  This is followed by dinner and our arrival briefing by the station manager, the recreation officer, the environmental folks, and on and on.  Only afterwards to we get our sheets, our room key and internet account info and then to our rooms to unpack! 


It was a tiring day with a lot of briefings, sitting and travel! 

I have now done three days of work (and of course, some more trainings, including how to drive a truck down here).  Me and Erin, one of the guys I was a rigger with last year, have been working on a solar installation for the South Pole’s visitor center tent which will be up this year as it’s the 100 year anniversary of Scott and Amundsen (my hero) getting to the pole.  (They expect hundreds of visitors!)   To the pole I’ll get to go in October to set it up! 

Otherwise, I’ve been settling in.  Running on the treadmill as it’s dark before and after work, went to a yoga class last night, and working on getting organized.  It’s been cloudy most of the time, with blowing snow almost all the time, but the temperatures have been relatively mild for this time of year.  7 degrees F or so.  Downright balmy...when the wind is not blowing, which isn't too often! 


Tonight I walked down to Robert Scott’s hut of more than a hundred years ago to look at the evening sky and look back at the station in dark mode.  It is wonderful to see the stars from Antarctica and I hope to see the auroras soon! 


Today we had refresher training on what to do if caught in a storm without a vehicle, which includes how to set up a tent and how to operate a stove…I think I got those now! 

Okay, that’s all for now.  Thanks, as always, for reading and for being interested.  It makes it easier to be so far away when I know people enjoy reading.  Don’t forget to share your stories with me too!  My best to all of you!

My address for anyone inclined:

Ben Urmston, RPSC
McMurdo Station
PSC 469 Box 700
APO AP 96599-1035